No one seems to object to the transcriptions and posting of AK’s comments which are at I’m putting comments and analysis on a separate blog, this one, so that people who don’t want to read such things don’t have to. This blog is set to accept anonymous comments, but I read them all and won’t tolerate flame wars. None have started.

Some of the most interesting and useful feedback on this material is coming in emails, some shared and others not shared, which I don’t want to post with names attached unless I have permission. I’m just going ahead to name the people AK named in her notes -- it’s been half a century since then, after all. Indeed, some of the email comments are arriving from people in that time period as well and those of us who know each other can probably guess who said what.

In good “discussion” mode, I’ll try to separate the issues from the people.

1. It is most moving that after fifty years the memory of personal relationships with AK have the status of love affairs, magical relationships that have inspired people for decades. They do NOT want that interfered with. Who would?

2. Likewise, there were a few people deeply wounded by past misunderstanding and schism and they, too, still hurt. To some this might be a reason to shut down, but to me it’s a reason to continue.

3. One opinion is that AK’s teaching methods are obsolete now. Students will no longer tolerate the confrontive and sometimes invasive tactics she used then. Indeed, some people wouldn’t accept them then, but they quietly went elsewhere. Is it a loss or a gain to give up the auteur model of teaching? Stanislavki was, after all, a Russian like the famously dictatorial ballet masters.

4. Is it true that academic theatre is nothing like professional theatre? You can still be tough on professional actors? (If Equity allows it.)

5. Some feel that theatre is totally different now. Whatever was important then is NOT important now. Or, to the contrary, theatre, esp. repertory theatre, is entering a renaissance that is vital and thriving across the country with new companies still being founded.

6. AK’s life trajectory is not really understandable without considering the time periods, the place, the administrators, sexism, and so on. No different from understanding a character in a play. (I confess -- this is my opinion.) All this happened before the Derrida Deconstruction craze, but we understand that, don’t we?

Mary Strachan Scriver

(Prairie Mary_

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I don’t pretend to have really been one of AK’s students, having transferred into Interp early on, but my dearest friends were, and I did attend some classes, so I think I felt and understood the mystique. Perhaps in some way her example helped motivate me toward my fifty-year career as an acting teacher, and having had the chance to experiment in setting up three professional programs, I have strong feelings about the role of acting teachers and of our profession in general, and as I am right now teaching beginning acting here (at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design) I have a sense of the condition in which kids are coming into our training programs today.
I am sure we all taught because we saw teaching as a way of helping to make a better American theatre through the resonance of our teaching in the lives of our students. Like Marshall, I am most proud of my students who went out and started theatres of their own. And I am also proud of those students who went on to significant acting careers and who maintained their dignity, and their sense of purpose.
I am least proud of the fact that we support our programs, including the 3700 drama departments in this country, by recruiting and retaining thousands of students who are condemned to frustration and disappointment. I am also least proud that we often fail to prepare the best of our students for the realities of life as an actor today – including our systemic failure to prepare people for the camera. I learned in my years as a producer that acting for the camera can, at its best, be the most demanding and purest test of the spiritual capacity of an actor, and it’s a shame that we don’t teach it in that spirit but instead continue to treat it as if it were mere vocationalism.
I am not optimistic about the future. The current crop of kids suffer terribly from a lifetime of TV watching and video gaming. Most of our training institutions are woefully inadequate in voice and speech training at a time when they are most needed. Our kids have had little opportunity and less passion to see live theatre. Their role models are almost all on TV. What would be best would be to consolidate our energies for actor training in a few programs of high quality (that was the motive behind our formation of the old League of Professional Theatre Training Programs.) Such programs should have free tuition, and a stipend for living costs. I taught in just such a system in Australia and it was a revelation. There the three major training programs are federally subsidized, and graduates have immediate entry into the profession. Of course, Australia is a small country compared to  us and it is easier for them to do this, but what they do is rooted in a genuine respect and liking of theatre in the broader culture as reflected in government policy. I never got over that the guy at the gas station was impressed when he found out I was an acting teacher and director! Our political and cultural climate wouldn’t permit us to even dream of such a system.
As to the personal relationship of the acting teacher and his or her students, I agree with Stu (was it him?) who said that AK was of her time and that it is no longer possible to be “a walking myth” (perfect phrase!)  In fact, I was always much put off by that aspect of the AK phenomenon, though I didn’t entirely blame her for it. Acting students are often masochistic and I have found that many come into acting out of a sense of unworthiness for attention and love in their lives, and I have always been appalled by the acting teachers who exploit this, of whom we have had too many in our country. I did see instances in which I thought AK was a bit guilty of this.
Marshall is also right about the tension between respecting the varying talents of our students and trying to maintain high standards – the problem is, I think, that our profession today offers no dominant model – in the forties and fifties it was still possible to say what constituted a “good” actor in the most general sense, but we have lived since the sixties in a state of stylistic pluralism that makes that impossible. As acting teachers, we have to first of all decide what KIND of actor we believe in and be honest about our values and recognize that we will not be able to serve the general run of students. If we are serious about training actors, then we have to select those students best suited to our personal esthetic – that’s really what AK did – but the American educational system makes that utterly impossible today.
I look forward to more of this discourse!
Beny Benedetti

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